Berkeley School Board discusses new elementary school, update on black community’s demands

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The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education discussed the possibility of opening a new elementary school for the 2018-19 school year because of enrollment growth and limits of current school capacities at its Wednesday evening meeting.

According to the board, a new school could balance the size of elementary schools across the district to flexibly accommodate an unpredictable enrollment increase in following academic years.

“I think we are aiming for the same goal, which is to provide the facilities for the kind of classroom and educational experience that we all believe our kids should have,” said board member and clerk Judy Appel at the meeting.

The board sought further clarification on specific planning details, including fiscal impacts and program and operational need. In addition, various board members agreed that the body needed to continue exploring opportunities to produce optimal learning spaces for students and will discuss further plans in April after more analysis has been conducted.

Subsequently, the board shared updates on the district’s progress addressing demands raised by the community after a racist incident at Berkeley High School occurred.

In December, the board hosted a town hall for community members and students to voice their concerns regarding the handling of the incident in November 2015, when a racist image was found on a Berkeley High School library computer.

The BHS Black Student Union demanded at Wednesday’s meeting that the school’s curriculum include more dialogue about black experiences, add additional African-American studies and ethnic studies classes and fully fund the African-American studies department at the school.

“It is insulting to condense all history of nonwhite people into an ethnic studies class,” said Nebeyat Zekaryas, co-president of BHS Black Student Union, in a previous board meeting. “In order to properly educate students, the (district) must work to integrate which is now considered ethnic studies into the … curriculum.”

As a temporary strategy, district staff is looking at opportunities to increase the number of books pertaining to black narratives in libraries and incorporate black perspectives into existing history and English classes, according to a staff report.

The board also proposed an anti-racism Oversight Task Force — consisting of representatives from multiple community and school-based organizations — that will make recommendations to the district regarding how the community demands should be addressed in addition to overseeing the district’s progress, according to district superintendent Donald Evans.

“There are a lot of districts I work with around the state where a lot of bad things happen and people feel bad about it — or they don’t — and we just move on,” Appel said at the meeting. “I appreciate that there has been real effort and time … to really address a value of an anti-racist school district.”

Jason Tran covers schools and communities. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @JasonTran_